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Padaung woman with rings

Thailand's famous Long Neck tribal people don't actually have long necks at all

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Updated December 19, 2018 03:42 PM EST

Editor's note: This story was originally published Oct. 27, 2016. We're bringing it back today to highlight Circa's expanding travel coverage.

CHIANG MAI, Thailand (CIRCA) — The Padaung tribe, commonly referred to as the Long Neck tribe, are the most famous of all the hill tribes in northern Thailand.

But contrary to their name, their necks aren't actually long.

Karen woman, long ears

Tourists can see the Padaung tribe (refugees from Myanmar) at a place in Chiang Mai called Baan Tong Luang village.

There are also several other hill tribe communities at the village, like the equally beautiful Hmong and Akha tribes.

Maso, long neck woman guitar

The village is described as a place to meet with and learn about hill tribe communities. And while that's true, it's not the whole truth:

This village is staged for tourism.

Long Neck trinkets

It's more like a living museum than a true village where hill tribes live.  

The tourism focus is made evident immediately by the trinkets for sale, covering the tables. 

Nathalie and long neck women, rings

The Padaung people know tourists are fascinated by their neck rings, so they are prepared for any and all impromptu photo shoots.

As soon as I started asking them about their rings, they put a fake set of rings on me and posed for photos.

Hmong peanut farmer

Some critics have major issues with this type of tourist attraction, calling these villages a "human zoo" that exploits a refugee community.

Hmong kids, peace sign

Staged or not, we came away from this place feeling that its value is in connecting people and cultures that otherwise would never meet. 

Group interview, long necks and guide

I want to thank our guide, Anan Benjapanprai, who is also a hill tribe member. 

If you are curious and want to visit the hill tribes, check out Thailand Hill Tribe Holidays, the group we used. 

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